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Research Developments from ACER


Maths is hands-on for Maria at Mackellar Primary School in Delahay, northwest of Melbourne. Photo Karen Wilson © ACER.

Focused: Why a teaching team is greater than the sum of its parts

Ray Peck reports on new research revealing that focused teaching teams assist the mathematics learning of students with Down syndrome.

Interim results from a project by Australian Catholic University and Monash University facilitated by ACER indicate that students with Down syndrome can be effectively supported in learning mathematics in inclusive classrooms through skilful program adjustments by teaching teams. The research reveals the key to supporting the mathematics learning of students with Down syndrome is to maintain a clear mathematical focus so that teaching teams can adapt their approach to meet individual needs.

The clear mathematics focus of teachers and teaching teams enables teachers and students in inclusive classrooms to understand the phases of mathematics lessons and ensures all students, including those with Down syndrome, learn key concepts.

The research indicates that when students with Down syndrome and their teachers have a clear and shared understanding of the focus of a maths lesson and its particular phases, students are better able to understand the particular aspects of the lesson, and teachers are able to provide seamless opportunities for whole-class learning, individual practice and group consolidation.

The research also indicates that teachers and teaching teams with a clear understanding of the learning and mathematical development of students with Down syndrome are better able to make decisions about when to persist, when to move on and when to make further adjustments.

A further research finding is that the classroom layout and the team-based approach by the classroom teacher, learning support teachers and learning support assistants are vital in supporting students with Down syndrome while enabling them to remain integral members of their class.

One outcome of the research will be an assessment instrument that can be used by classroom teachers to understand the learning and mathematical development of students with Down syndrome.

The research, facilitated by ACER through the ACER Foundation, and conducted by Dr Rhonda Faragher and Professor Doug Clarke at Australian Catholic University, and Associate Professor Barbara Clarke at Monash University, is funded by Gandel Philanthropy, one of Australia’s largest independent family philanthropic funds, with the support of Down Syndrome Australia. 

The project team shared interim findings at an event for research participants and stakeholders at Mackellar Primary School, Melbourne, in December.


About the author

Ray Peck is a Senior Research Fellow at ACER.

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